Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Not Just Anyone Should Be Writing About Pie

I never heard of Nathan Heller before today. He’s a copy editor at Slate, so I’m guessing I’m not alone. He wrote a piece for Slate called Pie - It's gloppy, it's soggy, it's un-American.

Forget Weinergate. Forget the Palin Express. Forget that everything is going to hell in a handbasket. Actually, remember that last thing. This is the most blasphemous thing I’ve read in a long time. Really. Don’t take your precious time to read it.

It comes down to this: Heller says pie is an inferior product that its hawkers have been trying to push down the throats of the American people by virtue of its long history and the patriotic values it’s supposed to represent.

He describes in detail the disaster of eating pie, of how it explodes on the plate and the crust is a nightmare to cut through AND chew. Everything he says is 100% correct…when it’s applied to BAD pie. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a soggy crust trying to keep an overly liquidy filling under control does NOT a superlative dessert make.

Heller continues his besmirchment of pie by saying that it doesn’t have the illustrious history its supporters claim it has. He says we eat pie at Thanksgiving, because of its “elaborate mythology”. I don’t give two figs about the mythology of pie, although the provenance of different food items can be fascinating. The reason I eat pie at Thanksgiving is because it’s good AND it’s what my mother always served.

Wherever it came from and, whether or not you believe in its traditional values (Mom, Apple Pie and all that), a well-made pie is a glorious combination of perfectly ripe (or perfectly sweetened) fruit enrobed in a crisp, flaky crust.

An excellent pie CAN make the diner believe that, yes, there is an America of which we can be proud.

And, if only for the moment that we have fork in hand, we can also agree that Mom, Grandma and Aunt Elsie (not to mention the occasional Uncle Orville) all hold the key to, if not prosperity and good fortune, at least a darn good dessert that’s worth preserving and passing down.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

On my first attempt at blogging, on an old MSN site deleted years ago, I wrote a piece called "In Praise of Pie". My husband loved that piece. He wishes I had saved it. I'd love to send it to this guy.

It's not that I don't get his point. There are messy, less-than-beautiful, aspects of pie. Yet some people are fine with that. He's not fine with it. Not his thing. I get it. Why he has to make it sound like everyone has to hate pie because he does.

He also seems to concentrate on fruit pies . What about cream pies? Nut pies? Totally different consistencies and form. Do they not count as pies in his world?

Abandoned By Wolves said...

I've had pies that were life changing experiences, so the heck with this guy.

Sue said...

You are so right. The world of pies is far vaster than he gives it credit for being.

I wish you had saved that post too. Have you tried searching for it? Maybe it exists in internet heaven.

Hey Abandoned,
Yeah! I'm with you!

Eating pies is pretty great and I’ve had revelations as I was MAKING them too.

Anonymous said...

I have to say, unless it's made by someone I know does a good job, I kind of cringe a little when someone offers pie. Too often it's just not good. We are spoiled by our own pie-making abilities and having friends who are great pie makers too, but the world is full of pies for which the best you can say is that they're not very good.

Tracy said...

I didn't read the article so I can't comment about the writer. But regarding the pie argument ... if I divided desserts into food groups, like pies, cakes, cookies, etc., and calculated the percentage of times I've been happy with the dessert I've eaten, pies would have the lowest percentage. I will choose almost any other dessert over pie. Actually, one thing would be lower: puddings. I hate the slimy texture. But you wouldn't be wrong if you felt completely the other way. Food is like that.

Jenn @leftoverqueen said...

There are definitely a lot of gross pies out there...but who can say no to a well-executed slice of coconut cream? For a long time I wold have agreed with this guy, until I recently tasted two different crusts that were equally delicious and exceptional in their own ways - one a traditional berry pie with a crust made with lard and the other, a grain free crust that uses almonds, chia seeds and coconut flour as the base.

Sue said...

Tom and Tracy,
I’m getting the distinct impression that you think this Nathan Heller actually makes some sense and that you share his discomfort with mediocre pies.

Okay, I hear you, but the more I think about it, the more I’m disturbed by his premise that we should banish all pies because of a few duds in the mix.

Actually, I think ANY time someone takes up the challenge to make a pie from scratch (WITHOUT those heinous pre-made shells), he or she should be applauded. If the crust is bit soggy or the filling a bit runny, that’s just impetus to keep trying. (And tasting!)

Not you too?!! Oh, okay, you don’t entirely agree with NH since you’ve had some recent awesome pies. That second crust sounds SO good. Any way you can score the recipe?